NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, which runs the Active Pest Control 200 as part of a doubleheader with the Xfinity Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, has become a prime place for young drivers to develop and showcase their talents.
Youngsters like Kaz Grala, a one-time AMS Legends driver who won the season opener at Daytona last week at age 18, are getting some of the circuit’s best rides despite their lack of big-track experience. Last year, William Byron, another AMS Legends racer, burst on the truck scene with little experience other than racing online and led the series in wins with seven.
The youngsters with their extensive use of social media are helping NASCAR attract the younger fans the sport’s leaders said they badly need.
Then there are a few such as defending series champion Johnny Sauter, who give NASCAR’s die-hard, old-school fans someone they can identify with.
Sauter’s not active on Twitter. He doesn’t live in Charlotte like most of his peers. He’s a throwback to the earlier days of the sport, when drivers with grease under their fingernails could wind up driving the fastest race cars.
Sauter is from a racing family, one of 12 children of the late Wisconsin racing star, Jim Sauter. His brothers race, as does his nephew.
Sauter himself has raced in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions, with three Xfinity Series victories and 13 in the truck series.
But despite his success in NASCAR, his home in Necedah, Wis., is where his heart is.
Although he acknowledges owning an iPhone, he said he’s old-school about almost everything else.
“Believe it or not, at home in my shop I listen to an AM radio station that plays ’80s country music,” he said, adding that he thinks like someone much older than 38. “I feel like I’m an older spirit. I get irritated at stuff my grandfather would get irritated about with the younger generation.
“Maybe that’s a product of having friends that I hang out with that are 10 or 15 years older than I am.”
He tried social media and found it a waste of time.
“My wife set up a Facebook page for me, and I Facebooked in like 2009 and saw how much time I was sitting in front of a computer and I said I’d rather be working on my Late Model or cutting grass or something,” he said. “I’m not an indoor kind of guy. I can’t sit there and do that stuff.”
Sauter knows his racing days won’t last much longer, and he’s already thinking about what he might do in retirement.
“I’ve played through a lot of scenarios in my mind — what I think I want to do and what I’d be good at,” he said. “I’m a car guy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a little used-car lot with a shop in the back.
“Or I can see myself being a landlord or apartment owner and being the handyman that works there every day.
“I like to get my hands dirty. I like to work on stuff. I don’t like sitting around idle.”